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Twice in the space of a week!

Really? You must be a lucky guy Dave! I know…I was pretty excited about it myself; I haven’t done it this often in a long time. It was worth all the money, time, exertion and effort too. I know what you’re thinking…is he really talking about this on his blog? Isn’t that a tad inappropriate? Money? Isn’t this a family blog? Well, of course it is…what is it that you think I’m talking about? Oh, I know, you’re confused. Well, that never happens here right?

So we’re here at the end of October and I am totally out of gas. It has been a crazy fall! Between everything that has gone on in my family life and work, I am very surprised I am still alive. No really…I’m not joking. It is a huge struggle to keep my head above water and I feel like I am not on the ball when it comes to teaching. I am behind in my marking and my planning isn’t as sharp as it usually is; I’m not focussed. I really need that sabbatical.

Football is winding down for another year. Noah and his Alouette teammates played in the TBMFA Atom championship on last Saturday and came away 25-6 winners. He played well in the victory, recording several tackles at his outside linebacker position. This week was the start of playoffs in high school junior football, and after finishing third in the standings we took on Superior in the quarterfinals on Thursday. It was a tough 20-6 win and we now move on to play Hammarskjold next week. I am very proud of this group as they have come along way since the beginning of the year and they have accomplished a lot no matter what happens from here.

Speaking of busy, this month has been very active for me on the railway front. On the 4th the historical society held its annual History Day at the Silver Mountain Station. This year’s edition had a very special guest, Harold Alanen, who was launching his new book, “They Came From All Around.” This was of great interest to me, since I’ve worked with Harold at Gunflint Lake in the past and his book covers a lot of history associated with the railway. I look forward to finish reading his book once things calm down.

Since I already brought it up, let’s talk about Gunflint. The weekend after History Day was Thanksgiving here in Canada and as I’ve done for the past few years, I spent it in Minnesota with the boys. It is some great father-son time, but also an opportunity to get field work done with most of the leaves down and the ground fairly dry.

Our adventure started bright and early on Friday morning as we packed up and made our way to the Cross River Lodge. After a short stop in Grand Marais for provisions, we arrived at the lodge by 9:30 or so. It was nice to catch up with John and Rose…it’s become like a second home for me. Shortly after noon we were heading across a very rough lake for the 11km ride to the site of Camp 4.

My objective for the day was pretty minimal, with just some minor explorations of the area. I did find a few interesting things, but no major breakthroughs for the time being. On the way back we took a short detour to Gunflint Narrows since the water on the lake was very low (not extreme, but one of the lowest I’ve seen). The boys climbed around on the rocks while I photographed the remains of the railway trestle.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2015.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2015.

One of the highlights of our trip was the spectacular evenings we experienced. The winds were very calm, the lake like glass and the sunsets were amazing. After the difficult times we’ve had over the past little while, I felt like it was some great therapy for the boys and myself. I really hope it repeats itself when we are there next year!

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Saturday was expected to be the big day. My goal was to travel across the lake again, this time to the site of Bridal Falls, and explore the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad south toward Crab Lake. I had done this last year, but this time I had a better plan and hoped for better results. Armed with my metal detector (which I had bought specifically for this purpose), I hoped I would find some physical traces of the line and determine its exact route to Crab Lake.

After a much nicer ride on the lake in the cool fall air, we made our way up past Bridal Falls and on to the railroad right of way. My first big surprise was the state of the grade; last year it had been completely flooded by a beaver dam on the Crab River right at the top of the ridge. To my surprise the water was gone! I didn’t bother checking to see if it was a result of the dam being broken, but I really didn’t care…it made my life much easier!

The line was easy to follow in this area, with corduroyed logs very visible under the grade. Half way across the 180m stretch we made our first find-a small spike (one of the smallest I’ve ever seen), which told us we were on the right path. Continuing southward we entered a wooded area and immediately found another spike, keeping us pointed in the right direction. But this was all to be expected; it was further south that the route of the line was in question. After 140m, we reached another low, open section.

G&LS rock cut, October 2015.

G&LS rock cut, October 2015.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

Last year it was here that I lost the line, but not this time. It didn’t take me long to find a spike, which told me my hunch was right, that the grade followed the course of the river. I crossed the low area and came into a wooded section where I immediately found yet another spike. As the grade curved around this ridge, I began finding many traces of the line. I came across a railway related object (might be part of a switch) and then several fishplates and spikes. The grade was clearly cut into the ridge as it swung from a south-westerly to southerly to south-easterly direction. Another fishplate told me I was still on the right “track.”

Switch part?, October 2015.

Switch part?, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

G&LS fishplate, October 2015.

G&LS fishplate, October 2015.

As the grade turns easterly the river widens to form a small lake, and the railway curves along the shore of the lake. Last year I found corduroyed logs in the water in several places in this 300m stretch. This time around I turned up a metal object at the northern apex of the lake and then several spikes at the southern end where the lake narrows again. A short 150m walk took me down to Crab Lake, finding more spikes along the way. While the boys took a break on the shore, I followed what turned out to be the grade a short distance confirmed by yet more spikes. There’s still another kilometre to explore to the east end of Crab Lake, which I hope to get to next year.

G&LS Grade, October 2015.

G&LS Grade, October 2015.

On the walk back to the boat we stopped to take some photos of the beautiful Bridal Falls. The trip back to the lodge was much nicer than the previous day and it felt good to have a shower and relax. It was a tough day of hiking so I decided to treat the boys to dinner at the Gunflint Lodge. This has become a tradition for us on these trips and it’s a great opportunity for us to just hang out.

Crab River, October 2015.

Crab River, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny again and after breakfast we were off across the lake for our last hike. I didn’t expect this one to yield any great breakthroughs since it was a section I had walked last summer. Our starting point was going to be where the railroad crossed a small creek 700m south of the boundary. With the water low, I was forced to paddle the boat in the last hundred metres to the shore. The remnants of the bridge were very visible in the water and I spent some time photographing them before proceeding ashore.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

It did not take us very long to follow the grade as it winds its way along the lake up to the narrows separating Little Gunflint and Gunflint Lakes. After stopping a little while, we made our way back south. Things that I had previous seen along this stretch were much more visible, such as the corduroyed logs underneath the grade. With the leaves down, it was easier to follow the line and photograph its features.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

Rail, October 2015.

Rail, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Our last night at the lodge was another great one. The mercury that day had risen to an unheard of level; the thermometer at the lodge was showing 91F, or 32C! It was gorgeous barbequing supper on the deck of the lodge and then enjoying the very warm evening. The next morning we were up early and after breakfast we had to sadly bid farewell to John and Rose and Gunflint Lake. I booked next year’s trip while I was there, so the countdown is already on to Thanksgiving 2016!

So, I guess after all of this blabbering I should mention something about the title. Well, one of things that came up during our time at Gunflint was the fact that I had not been hunting in a long time-eleven years to be exact-and that the boys had never been before. Hunting was a part of my youth. My dad hunted, not avidly, but rather I think he just enjoyed being outdoors and walking (I wonder where I get it from). I have some very fond memories of those times and I want the boys to experience that too.

The plan was that the following Sunday, if the weather cooperated, we would head down to North Lake to do some hunting and explore the railway at the same time. I had not walked this portion of the PAD&W since 2010 (I think) so I would be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, if you pardon the pun. It would also be the first time in a long time that I did field work twice in a week!

We left early for the 100km or so drive down to the lake. Once we parked the truck we started on the long walk, almost 7km, toward our destination at Trestle Bay. Luck was on our side again and it was shaping up to be another fantastic day.

PAD&W embankment, October 2015.

PAD&W embankment, October 2015.

After about a kilometre of walking, we came across our first ruffled grouse, or partridge as we call them around here. I was a little nervous about actually shooting, as it had been such a long time since I had last fired a gun. Thankfully, my aim was true with my dad’s old Mossberg .410 and we bagged our first bird of the day. Unfortunately the shotgun blast scared the bejesus out of poor Noah!

This trip was a bit of nostalgia for me. Way back in the fall of 1990 I made my first trip to North Lake; I was all of 16 years old and it was also my first time moose hunting. Friends of the family had just purchased the former Bishop’s homestead on the lake and I was taken by all the history in the area. Walking the grade, finding spikes and exploring the remains of the North Lake Station really captured my imagination. This is where it all began.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

Back then the grade was only clear for one kilometre past the property where it crossed a swamp. I had a lot of success in those days finding birds along this stretch and luck was on my side once more; by the time we reached the swamp we already had 3 of them. Continuing on we netted our limit by the time we arrived at the site of Greer’s logging camp, some 2.5km to the west (5 shots, 5 birds). The gun was then unloaded and shouldered, the dog cut loose and I could now concentrate on walking the grade. The hike was so picturesque and relaxing; I had forgotten how beautiful this area was. I also came to the realization that while enjoyed the time hunting, I’d much rather be focussing on the railway.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

Greer's logging camp, October 2015.

Greer’s logging camp, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

By noon we reached Trestle Bay, and after a break for some food we started back toward the truck. We paused several times along the way to take some video of the many rock cuts in the area. We arrived at our starting point around 3:30, just in time to get rolling home, but not before we cleaned the partridge. I don’t think the boys enjoyed that part very much, but neither did I when I was their age. It did feel good to share this icky part with them though, especially teaching them how to do it properly just as my dad did with me. I think that he would have been proud of the day we spent together…hopefully we can do it all again next year.

Trestle Bay, October 2015.

Trestle Bay, October 2015.

Well, I think I’ve said enough for now. This post has taken a lot of time to write and put together…twice in a week is more exhausting than I thought. Anywho, I better go; more news and info coming soon. Until then…

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Posted by on October 30, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Reflections on a Great Weekend

Moments like these do not come along very often. They are ones that are often engrained in our memory, reminisced upon for years to come. I certainly remember similar occasions from my youth, and they do bring with them comforting, warm thoughts. I hope that this past weekend does likewise, though my perspective is a bit different this time. I definitely glad I took the time to do this and I will mostly likely do it again!

Okay, so I guess enough of the cryptic stuff. It’s been a good weekend…really good. I got a chance to get away from all the stressful stuff that has been going on in my life and decompress a bit. I spent quite a bit of time on the railway, which as you know is my happy place. Most importantly, I got to be a dad for a few solid days. I do miss seeing my wife, but sometimes a guy just needs to spend some time away with his boys; a man’s weekend if you will. This fall has been so busy I haven’t really seen a lot of them, which is very unfortunate. As I indicated in my intro, these are the events that get remembered. I look back on with great fondness the times I spent with my dad all those years ago and while it does make me a bit sad that’s he gone, it makes me truly understand what a dad really is.

Fall is particularly special for me. One of my most cherished memories of my childhood father-son time is warm evenings spent hunting in the area around South Gilles. The fall colours, the blue skies and the crisp air make me think back to those years long ago. I certainly hope that the boys will remember those same feelings when I’m gone. I can’t wait to do this all again next year…if my wife lets us!

So this was my long-winded way of saying it was a great weekend. I think the boys enjoyed it and so did I. We spent Saturday along the Gunflint Narrows Road, looking for the elusive turning wye along that section of railway that seems to defy discovery. I did see a few things that were optimistic, but I failed to make the “big” breakthrough. I got myself a nice sloppy booter though!

After a few hours of slogging through the tall grass in the swamp, I turned my attention to the railway further south where it bridged the Cross River twice. Unfortunately, owing to all the rain we received this year, I wasn’t able to do much since the river level was so high. I’ll have to try again next year.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

We headed back to our great cabin for lunch (it was just renovated) and then drove back up the Gunflint Trail to the Chik-Wauk Museum. Noah had never seen the museum, so I thought he might like taking a look at it. Also, I had to drop off a new copy of my railway poster. Seems as though someone took a liking to it, and stole the previous one! I guess that’s a positive theft. While we were there we took the opportunity to look at some of the trails around the site and snap some pictures of the beautiful scenery.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

From the museum it was back to the lodge for a quick stop over and then we were back on the Gunflint Trail, east this time toward the Gunflint Lodge. I had decided that we would eat dinner one of the days at the Lodge’s fantastic restaurant and Saturday became that time. We left a little early so we could stop at the Gunflint Lake Overlook, which is just north of the lodge. There are some trails in the area, and I wanted to see which one would give us a nice vista of the lake. We wandered around for a bit, and finally found the West End Trail (which is part of the Borderland Route) that brought us to the spot. Too bad the clouds had rolled in otherwise it would have made for some awesome photographs!

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Supper at the lodge was great as usual, and I probably ate way more than I should have. Ethan decided that he could handle a three-slice clubhouse sandwich; no he couldn’t! Dad had to help him out, which I know isn’t the best plan for watching your waistline, but I hate to throw away food I paid for. I guess it worked okay though, since I did burn it off the next day.

Back at Cross River we spent the evening passing time in the lodge playing some games and watching a bit of TV. When we headed off to bed, it was drizzling a bit which made me nervous for what we’d experience the next day. Fortunately it wasn’t too wet when we woke up and it was a very beautiful morning on the lake.

Sunday’s hike was going to be along the railway grade that forms part of the southern arm of the USFS Centennial Trail. This was the part of the area I explored in the spring with Ethan and John. Noah had never come hiking in Minnesota so this was going to be a new experience for him, and I also wanted to do a bit of investigating along this stretch of the railway.

I always love to hike on this part of the Centennial Trail as it passed through some amazing work that was done on the railway, such as rock cuts and embankments. I particularly like the 200 foot north-facing rock cut that is very cool and damp, since it sees very little sunlight during the day. I also used the opportunity to shoot some new video of the railway through this area, which I hope to upload once I get caught up on stuff from the summer.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

400' Trestle, Minnesota, October 2013.

400′ Trestle, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Embankment, Minnesota, October 2013.

Embankment, Minnesota, October 2013.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

When we reached the intersection of the Centennial and Kekekabic Trails, we paused a bit for lunch. Then I tried to do a bit of sleuthing, using the boys to help me piece together what happened with the railway grade in the area, where it forms another switchback. I’m not completely clear on the situation, but it certainly helped clarify a few things and I did shoot some video that I can analyze at another time.

From there it was a three kilometre walk back to the truck, highlighted by Noah stepping on a snake and scaring the hell out of everyone. We did stop at a few of the test pits along the way so Noah could have a chance to see them. In all it was a great day and a heck of a lot of walking, 8km in total! I was certainly tired and so were the boys.

That evening it was a well-deserved meal of barbequed chicken and steak; I really appreciated the opportunity to sit down and have a nice quiet dinner with the boys. They were very excited for that night’s activities, since I had promised them that instead of our usual weekend movie night, we would do “football” night. The Cowboys were playing the Redskins in the late game, and we had chips and bottled cream soda ready to go. I think they quite enjoyed the evening and the snacks (and staying up a bit late), which made me a happy dad. The icing on the cake was the ‘Boys beating the ‘Skins in a very close game (I didn’t see the end as the boys had to go to bed).

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

The next morning I was up early to start packing for home. I was able to catch the sun rising over the lake, which was very beautiful. We all ate an amazing breakfast at the lodge, bid goodbye to John and Rose, and made our way home. It was sad to leave, but great to be home. My wife Jo-Anne had already started Thanksgiving dinner and wonderful scents emanated from the kitchen. The great feast was really the culmination of a fantastic weekend.

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

So I’ve had a week to digest everything that went on during the long weekend. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to reflect on all the great things we have in our lives…I certainly have a lot to be thankful for. My wife, my boys, all things in my life…they are all blessings. There are times that I do take everything for granted, but deep down I’m glad to have them all. I’m excited to do the boys’ weekend again next year, and I’m sure Ethan and Noah are too. Hopefully the weather will cooperate like this year and allow us to make more great memories.

Anyway, I need to go. Hopefully the end of the football seasons will allow me to write more often, maybe even next week…we’ll see! Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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It’s like riding a bike…right?

I’m sure we’ve all heard this saying at one point or another in our lives. If you’ve done it once before, then it should be simple to pick it up again later on…in theory. I’m sure life has taught us that it isn’t as simple as that. Sometimes things don’t come back to us as easily as we would like, and at times it can be very difficult, or even downright frustrating. That’s what I feel like right now. How and why do you ask? Please, read on.

So I’m back! Yes, I’ve made my epic return to the keyboard after an extended absence. If you’re keeping track, this is my first post since July 31st and my first regular post since July 17th. So it’s been a while. I had a very busy summer, especially with travelling, so it didn’t leave me a lot of time to write and this fall has been just utterly insane! But I hope to reverse that trend starting today. It has been tough however to get back into the “saddle” per se. It’s almost like I lost a little bit of my mojo by not writing in so long. Hence the title of the post; you’d figure it would be very easy to get back into the swing of writing, but it really has been a struggle to resume my ramblings. I guess this is a start in the right direction. We’ll see how it goes!

As I mentioned earlier, this fall has been extremely hectic; well, maybe the previous metaphor of insanity is better suited to describe the situation. I had hoped that when the summer of travel was over, I would be able to resume my blogging, but that hasn’t been the case. I just haven’t been able to find the time. Between work, family and three football teams (school, Ethan and Noah), I just don’t have the time or energy to write. So what’s different about now you ask? Well, I shall tell you.

I guess first of all I’m on Gunflint Lake as I write this post. I know that it is Thanksgiving, and what the heck am I doing down here right? Well, I’d been planning this trip for over a year now and it’s coming at a very fitting time. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to swing it, but my good friend John Schloot at Cross River Lodge found me a place to stay and I jumped at the chance. I needed the break, and it’s given me the opportunity to spend a little time writing.  I’m here to do some field work on the railway (go figure), but also to spend a little time with the boys…mom gets the weekend to herself! Don’t worry, we’ll be back for Monday dinner, but it lets me have some bonding time with the boys for a change. It’s rather fitting since we just passed what would have been my dad’s 85th birthday, and certainly fall makes me think of the time we spent together. I know he’s right there with us in spirit.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

I really don’t have the time to fill in all the blanks with what has gone on in the last few months…I’d need to be much better at typing! Football has certainly kept me very busy over the last month, especially since I’m also helping out with Ethan and Noah’s teams as well. Our junior team is doing well, though we only sit at 1-2. We’re getting better every week and hope to even our record with our final regular season game this week. It’s been very tough shuttling between practices, as Ethan usually practices right after the high school team. It leaves me pretty pooped once I get home. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make it to very many of Noah’s practices because of the conflicting schedules, but I’ve been there for the games. Both their seasons are wrapping up soon, so there is some respite on the horizon.

As you can image, with all of these things going on, I haven’t had a lot of free time to devote to the railway, but I’ve done my best. I have managed to go on a few hikes since my last post; one kinda railway related at Gunflint Lake, and the other along the grade west of Mackies at Sun Hill. Obviously I’m excited to get out this weekend, since this will probably be my last hikes of the year. Hopefully I’ll be able to accomplish my objectives!

Rock oven, Leeblain, August 2013.

Rock oven, Leeblain, August 2013.

Cutting, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Cutting, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Embankment, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Embankment, Sun Hill, September 2013.

The most important railway related news I have is regarding Leeblain. On September 24th I gave my first ever lecture at the Thunder Bay Museum on the ghost town, which was very successful. There was a good turnout, and I even had people asking if I recorded it since they were not able to attend. With the blessing of the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, I put it up on YouTube for the general public to view.

On a similar note, my article on Leeblain has been submitted to the TBHMS for publication. I literally had one weekend to make the necessary revisions to it based on the reviews that were done, but I pushed through and hopefully everything was okay. I have not heard back since it was sent it, so I’m taking that as a good sign. I’m really excited to see it published and have some of my “blood, sweat and tears” make it into print. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I gotta wrap up since I’m off exploring very soon. I’ll post again tonight with some thoughts about the day’s adventure. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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